[“Valor is the conquest of one’s self.”]

“We must suppose that those who secretly wrestle with us abide in another great world which, in its nature, is akin to the natural powers of our soul. For the three princes of evil, in their fight with spiritual strugglers, attack the three powers of our soul, and if a man has failed in something or does not strive at something, they overcome him in this very thing. Thus, the dragon—the prince of the abyss—rises in arms against those who keep attention on their heart, as one whose ‘strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly’ (Job xl. 16). He sends the lust-loving giant of forgetfulness against them with his clouds of fiery arrows, stirs up lust in them like some turbulent sea, makes it foam and burn in them and causes their confusion by flooding them with torrents of insatiable passions. The prince of this world, who is charge of warfare against the excitable part, attacks those who follow the path of active virtue. Using the giant of laziness, he encompasses them with all kinds of witchery of the passions and wrestles with those who always put up a courageous resistance. Thus he either vanquishes or is himself vanquished and so he gains them either crowns or shame before the faces of the angels. The prince of high places attacks those who exercise themselves in mental contemplation, by offering them fantasies; for, in company with the spiritual wickedness in high places, his task is to affect the thinking and rise on high, darkens and frightens it, introducing into it vague fantastic images of spirits and their metamorphoses and producing phantoms of lightning and thunder, tempests and earthquakes. Thus each of the three princes, impinging upon the corresponding powers of the soul, wages war against it, conducting his attacks against the particular part allotted to him.”

St. Gregory of Sinai

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians VI. 11, 12)

“The dragon is thy sensual soul: how is it dead? It is (only) frozen by grief and lack of means.

If it obtain the means of Pharaoh, by whose command the water of the river would flow,

Then it will begin to act like Pharaoh and will waylay a hundred (such as) Moses and Aaron.

That dragon, under stress of poverty, is a little worm, (but) a gnat is made a falcon by power and riches.

Keep the dragon in the snow of separation; beware, do not carry it into the sun of ‘Iraq.

So long as that dragon of thine remains frozen, (well and good); thou art a mouthful for it, when it gains release.

Mortify it and become safe from (spiritual) death; have no mercy; it is not one of them that deserves favours;

For (when) the heat of the sun of lust strikes upon it, that vile bat of thine flaps its wings.

Lead it manfully to the spiritual warfare and battle: God will reward thee with access (to Him)…

Dost thou hope, without using violence, to keep it bound in quiet and faithfulness?

How should this wish be fulfilled for any worthless one? It needs a Moses to kill the dragon.”

Rumi

Source: Whitall N. Perry, The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World’s Wisdoms, pp. 397, 400

[Descent into Hell]

“Christ’s soul must needs descend into hell, before it ascended into heaven. So must also the soul of man. But mark ye what manner this cometh to pass. When a man truly perceiveth and considereth himself, who and what he is, and findeth himself utterly vile and wicked, and unworthy of all the comfort and kindness that he hath ever received from God, or from the creatures, he falleth into such a deep abasement and despising of himself, that he thinketh himself unworthy that the earth should bear him, and it seemeth to him reasonable that all creatures in heaven and earth should rise up against him and avenge their Creator on him, and should punish and torment him; and that he were unworthy even of that. And it seemeth to him that he shall be eternally lost and damned, and a footstool to all the devils in hell, and that this is right and just and all too little compared to his sins which he so often and in so many ways hath committed against God and his Creator…Whilst a man is thus in hell, none may console him, neither God nor the creature, as it is written, ‘In hell there is no redemption.’ …

Now God hath not forsaken a man in this hell, but He is laying his hand upon him, that the man may not desire nor regard anything but the Eternal Good only, and may come to know that that is so noble and passing good, that none can search out or express its bliss, consolation and joy, peace, rest and satisfaction. And then, when the man neither careth for, nor seeketh, nor desireth, anything but the Eternal Good alone, and seeketh not himself, nor his own things, but the honour of God only, he is made a partaker of all manner of joy, bliss, peace, rest and consolation, and so the man is henceforth in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This hell and this heaven are two good, safe ways for a man in this present time, and happy is he who truly findeth them.

For this hell shall pass away,

But Heaven shall endure for aye.”

— Theologia Germanica, XI

Source: Whitall N. Perry, The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World’s Wisdoms, p. 367

[“One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when a misstep occurs.”]

How to recognise whether a man acts without self-reliance and with perfect trust in God:

“It often happens that self-reliant men think that they have no self-reliance whatever, but put all their trust in God and rest confidently in Him alone. But in practice it is not so. They can ascertain it for themselves, if they judge by what is in them and what happens to them if they fall down. If, when they grieve at their downfall, reproaching and abusing themselves for it, they think: ‘I shall do this and that, the consequences of my downfall will be effaced and all will be well once more,’ this is a sure sign that before the downfall they trusted themselves, instead of trusting God. And the more gloomy and disconsolate their grief, the more it shows that they relied too much on themselves and too little on God; and therefore the grief caused by their downfall is not tempered by any comfort. If a man does not rely on himself but puts his trust in God, when he falls he is not greatly surprised and is not overcome with excessive grief, for he knows that it is the result of his own impotence, and, above all, of the weakness of his trust in God. So his downfall increases his distrust of himself and makes him try all the harder to increase and deepen his humble trust in God. And further, hating the vile passions which caused his downfall, he thereupon endures peacefully and calmly the labours of penitence for having offended God; and armed with still more trust in God, he thereupon pursues his enemies with the greatest courage and resoluteness, even unto death.”

On the wrong opinion of those who deem excessive grief a virtue

“It is wrong to regard as a virtue the excessive grief, which men feel after committing a sin, not realising that it is caused by pride and a high opinion of themselves, based on the fact that they rely too much on themselves and their own powers. For by thinking that they are something important they undertake too much, hoping to deal with it by themselves. When the experience of their downfall shows them how weak they are, they are astounded, like people, who meet with something unexpected, and they are cast into turmoil and grow faint-hearted. For they see, fallen and prone on the ground, that graven image which is themselves, upon which they put all their hopes and expectations. This does not happen to a humble man who trusts in God alone, expecting nothing good from himself. Therefore, when he falls into some transgression, he also feels the weight of it and grieves, but is not cast into turmoil and is not perplexed, for he knows that it happened through his own impotence, to experience which in downfall is nothing unexpected or new to him.”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 4 & 5, pp. 9-10; Title taken from the first aphorism of Ibn ‘Ata’illah’s Book of Wisdoms

[Reza Shah-Kazemi: “Seeing God Everywhere”]

Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi writes on a range of topics from metaphysics and doctrine to contemplation and prayer. He is presently a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, where, amongst other projects, he has been working on a new, annotated translation of Nahj al-Balagha, the discourses of Imam ‘Ali. Dr. Shah-Kazemi is also the founding editor of the Islamic World Report. His degrees include International Relations and Politics at Sussex and Exeter Universities, and a PhD in Comparative Religion from the University of Kent in 1994. He later acted as a consultant to the Institute for Policy Research in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Dr. Shah-Kazemi has authored and translated several works, including Paths of Transcendence: Shankara, Ibn Arabi and Meister Eckhart on Transcendent Spiritual Realization (World Wisdom Books, 2006), Doctrines of Shi‘i Islam (I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001), Avicenna: Prince of Physicians (Hood Hood, 1997) and Crisis in Chechnya (Islamic World Report, 1995). Reza Shah-Kazemi has edited several books, including Algeria: Revolution Revisited (Islamic World Report, 1997). He has also published numerous articles and reviews in academic journals.

[Falling Man]

“Taoism regards the actual dichotomy between man and his primordial nature in terms of a disequilibrium. Vedanta starts from the perspective of illusion, while Buddhism speaks of the same thing in terms of ignorance. Judeo-Christianity teaches that man is in a state of fall, whereas Islam describes it from the point of view of rebellion.

‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us’ (I. John, I. 10). ‘Manifestation by definition implies imperfection, as the Infinite by definition implies manifestation; this ternary ‘Infinite, manifestation, imperfection’, constitutes the explanatory formula for all that can seem ‘problematic’ to the human mind in the vicissitudes of existence’ (Schuon; De l’Unité transcendante, p. 66). ‘Deem not strange the occurrence of afflictions as long as thou art in this perishable abode, for verily it has begotten nothing except what merits its appellation—and inevitable is this designation’ (Ibn ‘Ata’illah: Hikam, no. 34). Likewise Boethius: ‘Thou hast yielded thyself to fortune’s sway; thou must be content with the conditions of thy mistress’ (Consolat. Philosoph., II. i). No individual as such in time and space is free from the conditions thereof. ‘The man who has found reality, as well as the man who is still in the coils of the phenomenal, is like one travelling over a flooded road’ (Hônen, p. 610); bearing in mind, however, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans, VIII. 28). ‘Therefore if thou suffer persecution, wretchedness, and other dis-eases, thou hast that which accords to the place in which thou dwellest’ (Richard Rolle: The Fire of Love, I. viii). ‘It is not the world then that deceives men,’ says Hermes (‘De Castigatione Animae’; Hermetica, IV, p. 289); ‘but men deceive themselves, and so bring themselves to ruin. They think their happiness consists in the goods which this world gives, and think that these goods will last for ever, forgetting that life in this world is an alternation of good and bad.’

Source: Whitall N. Perry, The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World’s Wisdom, Book One, Part I, “Separation — Sin”, pp. 53-4

The Qur’an reminds us of the primeval event of awareness for every human soul in the Chapter The Heights. God asked each soul about its self: “When your Lord made them testify concerning themselves: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yea! We do testify!'” (7:172).

Each soul bore witness to their Lord and declared their devotion and servitude. The human soul which, according to the Qur’an, had existed prior to its emergence into this world, was untainted, pure potential before its separation from God.

“So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree, and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?'” (7:22)…Then, God told them: “We said: ‘Get ye down all from here (the Garden); and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.'” (2:38)

Perhaps one way to look at the fall of Adam and Eve, and by extension all of Mankind, is to consider the fact that man’s potential, or his self, can only develop and be known through experience. That is, man discovers himself as a consequence of his alienation and separation from God. It is a seeming separation, however, for in reality, separation brought about by rebellion and consequently, the fall,  is but illusion, disequilibrium, and ignorance.